Renault and Nissan try a new way after years when Ghosn ruled

By Liz Alderman

Nearly a year after the arrest of Carlos Ghosn, Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi are moving to reboot the world’s largest auto alliance by appointing a general secretary at the top of their partnership in a move it hopes will accelerate business.

The structure, announced by the companies Friday, is a marked change from the way Ghosn ran the automakers as a single chieftain calling most of the shots, toward more consensus-based decision-making by the heads of the three companies.

The restructuring comes as Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi, which together sold more cars than any other company in 2018, struggle to improve profitability in the face of sweeping changes transforming the industry, including the rush to electric vehicles. All three companies have reported a steep decline in sales worldwide and face fresh challenges as other automakers join forces to generate efficiencies in an increasingly tough global market.

The general secretary, whose name will be announced next week, will “coordinate and lead important programs to enhance the efficiency of the alliance,” the groups said in a statement Friday.

But unlike the alliance’s longtime leader, Ghosn, the person will not have authority over the entire alliance. Jean-Dominique Senard, the chairman of Renault, will remain as the chairman of the alliance’s operating board, and the general secretary will report to the alliance’s board and the three CEOs.

The announcement came after Senard hosted the chief executives of Nissan and Mitsubishi this week in Paris.

The partnership of Renault and Nissan spiraled into turmoil following the arrest last year and subsequent ouster of Ghosn, who has been charged by Japanese prosecutors with financial mismanagement, including underreporting his compensation. Ghosn denies any wrongdoing. Tensions flared in May after Renault failed to tell Nissan that it had secretly engaged in merger talks with Fiat Chrysler. The merger eventually fell through.

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Fiat Chrysler recently announced plans to merge with Renault’s French rival PSA, the maker of Peugeot and Citroën cars, forcing Renault, Nissan and Mitsubishi to work more closely than ever to improve the business. The combination of Fiat Chrysler and PSA would create the world’s fourth-largest automaker, producing slightly more cars than General Motors.

Relations between Senard and Nissan’s longtime chief executive, Hiroto Saikawa, had grown especially tense before Saikawa resigned in September after a pay scandal. Makoto Uchida, the head of Nissan’s China business, will take over as chief executive Sunday.

Relations between Senard and Uchida are markedly stronger, said a person with knowledge of the situation, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

“The relationship between Renault and Nissan has gotten better at every level,” the person said. At meetings in Tokyo recently, the men had dinner and drank beer together in a friendly atmosphere. At the meetings this week in Paris, “they understood one another and had the same goal,” the person added.

In the immediate future, that means eliminating inefficiencies and overlap in operations among the three companies and aiming for investments that will quickly improve the alliance’s competitiveness.

More than a dozen joint Renault-Nissan projects have stalled since Ghosn’s ouster. Only by combining forces can Nissan and Renault, the dominant partners in the alliance, afford the huge investments they need to make in autonomous driving and other technologies to avoid obsolescence, their executives have said.



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